A quiet refrain: why wasting time matters

This morning I had some thoughts about boredom. I’m reading a book by a Buddhist nun, as one does, and in it she speaks of the need to refrain. Refraining is the first step on the path of mindfulness. She says this:

“Refraining–not habitually acting out impulsively–has something to do with giving up entertainment mentality. Through refraining, we see there is something between the arising of the craving–or the lonliness or the aggresion or whatever it might be–and whatever action we take as a result. There is something there in us that we don’t want to experience, and we never do experience, because we’re so quick to act.”

Hi, I’m Dana, and I’m a habitual numb-er and self-distract-er.

This is something I have become more mindful of lately, my penchant for distraction. Honestly, I think it’s something we all do without really thinking about it – which is why it’s habitual. For myself, this happens for at least two reasons. The first is that we live in a productivity driven culture. Empty time is an anathema. In fact, we are consistently guilty of double-booking, over-scheduling and undervaluing rest and relaxation. Ask the next ten people you know how they are and at least six of them will respond with “busy.”

We check our phones when we wait in line.
If we’re out to eat, the news and at least one sporting event plays in the background.
Most world events that happened more than twelve hours ago are barely relevant.

We are as tuned in, turned on, active and informed as any people have ever been anywhere. It makes us feel so terribly important to be so.

We fill time because culture expects it. If we aren’t producing something, we are wasting time. We’ve elevated busy to a status symbol. I’m not pointing fingers. I am very much talking about me.

Lately though, I’m trying to shift my focus by refraining for a moment in the margin, that space between what I am doing now and what I intend to do next. I pause. I consider. And sometimes, if the thing I’m reaching for will only distract from the present, I let it go.  I experience boredom in grocery lines. Sometimes I even eat a meal with no noise and no book. Just me and food. I don’t even invite the monkey brain (sometimes she shows up anyway).

The second reason I think we fill our time so completely is because we are afraid to who we might find in the silence. As a whole, I don’t believe we like ourselves very much. Whether it’s society telling us we don’t measure up to the latest trending standard, or religious institutions convincing us of inherent evil, we just don’t experience in a very self-compassionate existence. The more consciously I create margin in my life, the more I hear the self-destructive messages the world sends us echoing around in my head. I think it’s killing us; I know it was killing me.

When I make space in time, in my head, in my soul, I can replace those toxic messages with something real and valuable and loving. I can finally hear other, more beautiful but less clamorous messages writ on my soul in a deeper, quieter language, the one the world tries so hard to drown out.

I’m thinking about all of these things in relation to my summer break. Honestly, I’ve tried to convince myself it’s a selfish, lazy, foolish endeavor. A waste of time. But that isn’t the truest message, it’s simply the loudest. It’s the message the gods of productivity and self-loathing would have me believe. The true message is that my soul is created by love, to love and for love. My worth is based not in what I produce, but because of whose I am. I don’t have to fill time to matter.  I don’t have to be afraid of what I will find inside of myself, and I don’t have to prove it to anyone by working hard. Even if I’m bored, uncertain and unproductive, there is beauty and worth to experience.

I will refrain, and in that space, find peace.

Happy Birthday to the Man who loves

This morning I went to Kroger, early, before-early-service early. I had a few last minute things to grab for tonight’s special birthday dinner. While I was there it seemed every third person had to stop me and make sure I wished my Hunky happy birthday for them. People I didn’t even know asked me to pass on their well wishes.  Generally, I don’t enjoy shopping, but today’s trip made me smile and then laugh. I guarantee my Hunky hasn’t told anyone today is his birthday, and yet still people know and send their love.

That’s the kind of man I married. He makes people feel seen, heard and loved. Without agenda, he simply, genuinely cares about people, all people, everywhere. We’ve been married for two decades, and I see it everywhere we go. I’m married to a man whose heart is big enough to embrace the entire world, and isn’t afraid for people to know it.

When we spend a day in public, my girls play a game where they keep count of the people who stop for a hug or a hand shake or just to share a few words. Craig never forgets a name, or a face, or a story. Perhaps it’s the last one that’s the most important. He takes the time to hear someone’s story and he remembers the details.

It’s not just people “out there” either. Here at home, he sees, he hears, he remembers. Details and events that have long left my working memory he recalls in perfect detail. But he never uses these things against us, or to prove a point. Instead he uses them to elevate, to reflect and to constantly remind us how much we are loved. He loves in a way that makes people want to be around him simply to be reminded of our inherent worth.

When we left Florida, we weren’t allowed the opportunity to say goodbye to anyone. But once our severance period ended, a dear friend opened her home for a sort of long awaited farewell party. Most of that night is a blur to me now, but what I will never forget is that people literally LITERALLY filled every room and then out onto the porch, down the walk way and lined the sidewalk down the street, waiting, for a very long time, for their turn to receive a Craig hug. For hours and hours he hugged and listened and loved and cried.

For all my life, I will never forget what it is like to see in such a concentrated way how it affects everyone around you to be a person who loves well and fully.

If you’ve read any part of the last hundred days of writing, you know I’m a big, floundering, messed up human. I’m not certain that will ever change. But what balances me out is being deeply known and passionately loved. How true it is that kind of love covers over a multitude of sins. It certainly does for me.

Happy birthday to my love, my heart of hearts. The world is absolutely a better more beautiful place with you in it. I hope you never doubt that. And never forget your meaner, less forgiving half is more than happy to take on anyone who says otherwise.

Lean into the Sadness: thoughts on rage, despair and healing

Remember the other day when I was listening to Bruce Hornsby and writing about happiness? Today it’s Glen Campbell, because when I have the blues, I always go back to my roots. Classic country and cowboy music is about as good as it gets in my book. I’ve been tapping in my love of music this year in a way I haven’t in quite some time. Just another tool in the recovery toolbox, one I let get rusty for awhile. Sadness is dogging me this week, despite my happiness declarations (which I still believe, by the way).

This week the world seems heavy. Heavy, hard and mean. Issues threaten to swallow me in their vast terrible brokenness. Racial Injustice. Democracy. Polarization. Terrorism. How do we even stand against evil systems like this, systems which have reigned for thousands of years?

I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. I feel a ball of rage in my gut for things I feel helpless to change. Even though I use the tools I know will help: meditation, avoiding social media, self-care, I still feel stuck. Stuck or trapped or isolated. While these feelings may not be entirely reliable, they tell me about the state of my soul. They move me to empathy, to explore other perspectives, to lean into confusion and pain. They also warn me against becoming trapped in patterns which only lead to self-destruction. These feelings push me to connect with loving people, beautiful places and peaceful practices.

I want to do something but rage is not the fuel for this fire. Love is. Love is. But I damn sure don’t feel loving right now. Normally this is where I withdraw and practice all my escapism and distraction rituals. But I’m not going to do that. Not this time. I’m learning new ways to engage with the world, in love, as it is. Even on tough days, like today.

Maybe it’s a cop-out to make this confession and then send you elsewhere, but if you are like me, feeling impotent, faceless rage and not sure how to dispel the overwhelming despair, then you need to read these words from Brian Zahnd as much as I did.

It’s ok to cry while you read it. Sometimes it helps.

“When the risen Christ appeared to his disciples, with the wounds of his suffering still visible, he did not say, “Let us rage against Rome and the Sanhedrin.” No, Jesus spoke a word from elsewhere. He spoke the first word of the new world. He said, “Peace be with you.” And in due course these earliest of disciples turned the Roman world upside down by embodying the Pax Christi, a transcendent peace that exposed the Pax Romana for the empty propaganda that it was.

So here is my advice for those of us who inhabit this age of rage.”

Read the rest of this beautiful message here.

How to connect with your soul: Self-care adventures

Lately I am all about self-care. The more I journal about it, the more I realize it’s been years since I invested in myself. I don’t say this as a point of blame since I am solely responsible for self-care, from boundaries to application. Exploring ways to connect with my soul has turned into an adventure and a challenge this summer. Every day, I’m engaged in understanding myself better which in turn benefits everyone around me.

However, I  receive a lot of push-back when I talk about self-care with others. Most often I receive the ‘I could never do that‘ response. From healthy eating choices to the Month of No, there is a general reluctance to swim against powerful cultural currents.

Honestly, I believe we see self-care as a frivolous indulgence especially in religious circles. If we aren’t sacrificing ourselves to near burn out (or often past the point of burn out) then we certainly cannot be “good enough.” Or maybe it’s just me who absorbed this message.

Popular culture is no friend to self-care either. Our fervent pursuit of busyness, constant activity, pushing forward, get-ahead, stay-on-top, win-win-win mentality is quite literally killing us. Even though I stepped out of the consumer race several years ago, I still worshiped frequently at the ‘altar of should.’ Constantly working at things I should do, who I should be, ways my life should look, I lived the busyness mentality quite well even though I practiced minimalism.

Granted, some seasons of life simply are busier than others. Children, family needs or other personal responsibilities often make demands beyond our control. However, more often we make our loads into burdens with poor boundaries, ridiculous expectations and subscribing to the American dream. I don’t believe it’s only me who is guilty of these things. Ask the next person you see how they are, and it’s likely their response will be “Busy!

Oddly, I find it harder to answer people when they ask what I’ve been up to now that I can no longer claim “keeping busy.” How do you tell someone that occasionally, you feel downright bored. Mostly, I have enough to keep my mind working, but when I use self-restraint and stay away from time-killing distractions, I do sometimes find myself twiddling my thumbs.

What I do notice more often now is a general sense of well-being. Even when I am busier than I’d like to be, I can still feel it. By creating margin for my inner voice, my circumstances have less influence on my general demeanor. I haven’t perfected this state, but I am certain it will be second nature the longer I pursue this less-than lifestyle.

Recently, I actually made a list of things which I consider self-care. When I’m feeling overwhelmed or anxious, I choose an item, or two or three, and indulge in some self-care. I’m even incorporating self-care as part of my morning and evening routines. Creating self-care habits is high on my priority list this summer.

Some of my practices include:

  • Reading (who didn’t see that one?)
  • Browsing at the library
  • Taking care of my succulent garden
  • Meditating
  • Running
  • Snuggling the dogs
  • Drawing
  • Sitting outside, breathing deeply and doing nothing else
  • Burning candles
  • Yogi Tea
  • Journaling

As you can see, nothing is complicated or expensive. For a free practice, self-care may be as effective as a year of therapy was a few years ago. If nothing else, I like myself a whole lot more than I did six months ago. And I care a lot less about situations I cannot change or control as well.

What ways do you engage in self-care? How can you create margin to do them more often?

 

Love: How I make sense of the world in violent times

Sundays tend to make me thinkful. Often I experience a sort of dissonance between the way I once understood God, and the way I understand God now. Much has changed for me over the last few years, a widening and deepening. I read something this morning that I love:

We must therefore, never underestimate our power to wrong about God, when imagining God –whether in prose or in poetry. – Brian MacLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy

I have been wrong, no doubt about many things I am still wrong. But over the last few years I’ve learned that when God strips everything else away, Love remains. The Spirit of God is love, and it does not change or fail or fall away. When Christ hung on the cross, it was not to appease the wrath of God. We already understood gods as wrathful and bloodthirsty and have for thousands of years. Instead, Christ came to reveal the true nature of God. Even when humanity seeks to put God to death, He loves. He forgives.

This is not the image of God I learned from my childhood. While this concept is not a new revelation, it is a new revelation to me. It is a facet of God I had not yet considered, but now that I have, it has entirely changed how I see the world and the people in it.

But it is a slow reconciliation.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to reconcile is the concept of original blessing. The congregations I have taken part with have always emphasized sin. We are born in sin. We live in sin. Mankind lost to Original sin. This sin is almost, always personal in nature: lies, swearing, greed…you probably know the list. But, there is a reality before Genesis 3. Somehow we forget this, or we’ve simply never considered it this way.

Before there was sin, there was blessing. We were created in communion and for communion. Even before His death, Jesus showed us there is still communion with God. He washed the disciples feet and He broke bread with them. This is the very face of God revealed in a way humanity had seldom imagined.

No other god has ever revealed themselves in this way.

Yet somehow we still miss it. We let our focus settle on our imperfections (for me, those are many) rather than on the One who dwells first with us and then in us. We are not repulsive to God. Not a disappointment; not an abomination. Every single person who has ever lived and ever will live was created by love and in love. Every one.

Created by Love and in love. Created to love.

For so long I missed this. As I understood it, I was born in sin and redeemed to correct and save others. The strength of my belief was under-girded by how many people around me understood God the same way. Numbers meant power and power meant the ability to shape the world in our image.

But I do not need to save the world. The position of Savior is more than adequately filled. He declared His work finished, enough. Furthermore, I do not need to fix the world, since Love is already doing the restoration work. I can even let go of judging the world, God has judged it already and found it very good (He hasn’t changed His mind on this revelation either). My one and only job is to love the world. Love the world and it’s people, it’s features and cultures and forests and fields. Love with my words and my ways and my life.

I’ve come to believe the world doesn’t have a sin problem. If Jesus died once and for all, then sin only has power where there is not love. No, the world suffers from a Love problem. When we worship systems and power instead of God, the world suffers. Placing ourselves, our agendas, our desires above our neighbor, the world suffers. We create division between people groups and ideologies. We always belong to the good guys, and they always belong to the bad guys. And the world suffers.

But we have received a revelation that life doesn’t have to be this way. These systems and powers and principalities are shadows but we can bring the light. That light is Love. It looks different from the rule books, different from systematic theology, breaking down barriers religion has erected. It’s messy and unpredictable, and it’s breaking through. Here and now, all around  us.

We love because we are already loved. We have been since the dawn of time.

Kingdom come.
On earth as it is in Heaven.
For God so loves the world. This world.
He is love, and in Him, we are love.

 

Though I speak all the languages of earth and of angels, if I didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.  If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

 

The true story of Nattie Rose: Mother, book lover, friend

Once upon a time, a fair princess, Nattie Rose, lived in a hobbit house, right in the middle of a cornfield. The princess loved purple, and diet coke and books. She had so many books they stacked from floor to ceiling. Even though the eaves were low in the hobbit house, when she looked at her stacks of books she felt she possessed great treasure, a richness of words and stories.

Two fair children lived with the princess. They didn’t have magic or perform feats of great strength. In fact, they were fey, funny and mischievous and sometimes downright naughty. In other words, they were much like most ordinary children except these two were hers. She loved them as much as her books and then times infinity plus the moon.

The princess possessed a great many gifts besides her children and books. Although sometimes life seemed unimaginably cruel, she never stopped believing good fortune awaited her. “Onward and upward,” she’d say after every set back. The princess also possessed the gift of words, which she shared generously with anyone who needed kindness or encouragement.

The one thing the princess could not do well was dishes. Occasionally dishes would pile almost as high as her stacks of books. When this happened, her counselors would advise she fill the little bathtub in the hobbit-sized bathroom with soap and water. Then everyone would laugh at the absurdity of washing dishes in the tub, but once they were done the princess was able to be happy again, and read her books without guilt or danger of cutlery avalanche.

One day, the princess began to feel a bit ill. At first she attributed her loose fitting gowns to the meager fare she and her children subsisted on since her prince had succumbed to an evil spell and disappeared. But soon, even the the blandest food and her beloved diet coke made her sick. Although her counselors and family begged her to see a doctor, there was barely enough money already to care for her children. She simply couldn’t consider the selfishness of paying for medicine instead. It was only when she became too weak and sick to tend to the things she loved most that she finally sought help.

Alas, when the doctor put her in an enchanted sleep and looked beneath her fair skin, he found a demon wrapped around her stomach. It’s vile arms reaching up her throat as though to strangle her from the inside. Although they couldn’t slay the demon, they hoped to find medicine that would weaken it, or shrink it. Perhaps they could try again one day when she was stronger.

But the princess by now was very weak and tired. Although she loved her children, family and friends desperately, she didn’t have the strength to leave her sick bed. One night, not long after the doctors delivered the diagnosis, Princess Nattie closed her eyes and never opened them again.

Natalie Rose York died before dawn on June 7, 2007. She was loved by many and is still deeply missed and mourned by those who were touched by her friendship and love. More than anything in this world she loved a good story. Today in her honor, I’ve shared the tiniest piece of hers. Since she is still writing her story in my life, I decided it isn’t time yet to say “the end.”

Onward and upward.

Let it be: practicing the art of allowing

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me. 
Speaking words of wisdom, Let it be.

Today is a heavy sort of day. I debated sharing the reasons why and landed on the side of not going into details. Even without details we all know what it’s like to feel the weight of life some days.

My meditation this morning focused on allowing. During the meditation, rather than holding too tightly to the breath or resisting to strongly the stray thoughts, emotions and sensations that the monkey brain insists on thrusting to the attention, we make room for all the other things beside the breath.

What a thought or sensation arises, we acknowledge it by naming it. For instance during my time I named “Dinner” “itch” “garbage truck” amongst a hundred other things. The point is that naming the thing acknowledges its validity and allows it to retreat, returning focus to the breath.

A little while later, while I was walking the dog, considering the rain and wondering why ants climb power poles by the thousand, I realized that I’m learning to allow far beyond a fifteen minute meditation.

Normally when life gets heavy, I numb or escape. I mindlessly scroll or binge watch netflix – any type of mindless distraction will do. The goal is simply to avoid feeling until the feeling goes away.

But not today. Today I am allowing these heavy emotions. I feel them without but they don’t consume me. Creating space at the table alongside the chores and writing and spending the day, all day, with two of my wonderful daughters.

I can feel sadness, hurt and confusion. There is space for them in my life and in my day. I can also snuggle the pups, talk about succulents and make taco salad. The smile doesn’t negate the sorrow, nor does the laughter dishonor the hurt.

There’s room for all of it. It’s all appropriate, all necessary. We are amazingly beautiful, incredibly complex beings not defined by a single emotion or a single event. We mistakenly treat difficult emotions as enemies or obstacles. But really, those ‘negative’ emotions only want us to acknowledge their presence, to feel them as they run their course. Their place in our lives as valid as the their more enjoyable counterparts.

Today I am allowing. Yes it is heavy, but it’s proving so much less exhausting than resisting this process. Sorrow cleanses and grief reminds us of love shared. These are necessary processes in wholehearted living. They are as beautiful in their own way as rapture, joy and excitement. We can make room in our souls without fearing we will drown. There is room.

There is room.

We can feel and grieve and grow and heal. Let it be.

And when the broken-hearted people living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be

Life in the margin: facing myself in the empty spaces

It may be harder than I thought, this month of No. I hadn’t realized how much I was using responsibility and activity to numb some of my more unmanageable feelings.  It’s easy to pretend things aren’t upsetting when you have to manage six errands in ninety minutes, or you expect forty friends and family to inhabit your yard and home for a weekend. When it’s a day to party and celebrate, it’s easy to say, I’ll think about this tomorrow. It’s harder to create margin and then meet yourself there. Which is precisely what I’ve done.

I’ve spent the entire morning prowling my house like a cranky lioness, unable to settle, not playing nicely with others. I’m rumpled and judgemental. My inner critic points fingers and levels accusations about them and those and the other.

I readily admit, I can be a difficult person to love. Just ask Hunky.

I can accept the fact that I am a prickly specimen until I’m feeling more secure. But I can’t accept my own inability or unwillingness to extend the kind of open mindedness I expect from everyone else. Guilty. Double, triple, quadruple guilty.

Obviously, I’m quite capable of putting on my own blinders in this world, narrowing my vision to a tiny tunnel of acceptability. Creating margin seems like such a lovely concept until you scrape all the distractions of the surface, and find your own undistorted image looking back at you.

I’ve already considered the possibility that thirty days may not be nearly long enough to embrace this paradox of working to make the world better while simultaneously loving it exactly as it is. Or maybe that’s the easy part. The world is a large and nebulous concept, easy to blur into an image more pleasing. It’s individuals and systems where I truly struggle.

So what do we do when we find the world unlovely and the people in it unlovable?

For me it means digging deeper to unearth the things I cannot love about myself. Usually those things closely reflect what I condemn in others. It means embracing the paradox that I can work to be a better me while loving myself entirely as I am in this moment.

It also means a lot less news and news commentary to pollute my mind with rage and accusation.

Time to step back even farther and stare my FOMO right in the face. And then kiss her between the eyes and welcome her into all the other idiosyncrasies who inhabit my soul. There’s probably a seat right next to the perfectionist. No one likes her very much.

I can accept that not every day of this margin space is going to be a zen paradise where I perform yoga while rescuing stray kittens and give world changing soliloquies on the true nature of love. It may be more about embracing the urge to pack boxes while not acting on it and resigning myself to finishing one more Georgia summer. (I’m sorry, but you cannot make me love that, though I may learn to surrender to it gracefully…maybe.) It may mean being inhabited by inner peace and roving restlessness all at once. Loving both sides of my personality the same rather than calling one “good” and the other “bad.”

This non-judgemental, non-dual path I’m traveling seems like it shouldn’t be so hard, but it’s actually the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Mostly because I am my own worst enemy. I sabotage my efforts left and right with my temper, idealism and sky-high expectations. This self-work in the margin isn’t for the faint of heart. But I know when I’m more practiced in loving the person I am, the easier it will be to love others as they are too.

 

Intelligence vs. Intellectualism: Permission to have the feels

This morning I was thinking about the difference between intelligence and intellectualism.  Lately, I explore activities I would have called “new-agey” just a few years ago. I meditate, do yoga, commune with nature and journal responses from my intuition. (Some people call this voice, my inner guide-how’s that for new-agey?) It all seems very touchy-feely from an intellectual standpoint. At least, that’s what my inner intellectual tells me.

I am a fan of intelligence who enjoys learning and exploring new things. More than anything, I love a good, in-depth conversation. I want to understand the world from various perspectives and ideologies, even if they aren’t the ones I incorporate into my own worldview. Seldom do I accept anything blindly, and I admit to being an information junkie. Intelligence and education matter to me, which isn’t likely to change, nor do I want it to.

However, at some point I shifted from enjoying the experience of learning to relying on intellectualism. Intelligence encourages me to acquire and use knowledge and skills, while intellectualism tells me only knowledge matters, at the expense of all else, especially feelings.

I don’t know when this shift happened, although I can trace some roots to growing up in dogmatic systems. I can distinctly remember thinking, well that doesn’t feel right, so I don’t accept it when hearing certain doctrines and traditions. But I did not accept unquestioningly, as expected.

It’s difficult to pinpoint when I made the shift to intellectualism. Somewhere in my early adulthood, the need to fit in overwhelmed my need to question. My codependency certainly plays a part here.  Perhaps what I heard sounded just good enough to make me squash my questioning nature. Maybe in the uncertainty of a cancer diagnosis, I needed answers I could always depend on. I’ll never know for certain.

What I do know is that so much of evangelicalism relies on a very traditional, intellectual stronghold. This certainty, the need to accept without question, the assertion of only one correct worldview, bled into every part of my life. As I’ve said, I am a spiritual being. I also have a deep perfectionist streak. The lure of spiritual certainty and spiritual correctness proved too much. I believed the lie that emotions shouldn’t be trusted, that my inner-voice is inherently evil, shoving them down and away.

This worked for awhile, until all the repressed emotions cause a spiritual earthquake. Whether it’s the concept of God as genocidal maniac when compared to Jesus, or the disparity of the Sermon on the Mount from the Christian Nationalism, eventually my emotions demanded a hearing. Biblicism and rationalism made fine walls but rotten counselors.

When I entered therapy, my counselor advised me to stop trying to make sense of everything. Sometimes we must simply feel what we feel and work from there. Two years later, I have to remind myself of this on a daily basis. True, intellect is important, but intelligence is more than my intellect. Emotional intelligence and spiritual intelligence also play an important role in well-being.

In fact, during the years in therapy and since, I have largely been swimming through a great big vat of emotional soup. I needed to relearn not only how to feel, but how to trust my feelings. And then I had to learn not to be ruled by them. I’m still working on this one with the help of meditation. My intuition, my inner guide, is speaking again. First with a whisper, but eventually louder. Sometimes now she even sings.

Learning to embrace questions and uncertainty has been a difficult battlefield. If something doesn’t feel right, I have permission to reject it, even without a rational alternative. I’m allowed to push-back against the rhetoric of certainty and tradition simply because it makes my soul feel dirty and twisted. Sometimes I’m wrong and I make big, messy, visible mistakes. But I can live with mistakes easier than I can live with cruelty, exclusion and blind acceptance.

My life currently, is very touchy-feely, but not without direction. I have a host of non-dual teachers and fellow questioners who willingly share from a vast well of experience and understanding. When all else fails we lean into love, kindness and empathy. We feel all the feelings in a world which makes very little sense. I am far less certain and far more happy than I can remember being in a long time. My soul fits in my skin again, even with all the feelings up in here.

 

Good enough: How to embrace the inner perfectionist

As a recovering perfectionist, I often need to remind myself not to get too caught up in details. Perfectionists can tweak and tweak and tweak….and tweak a thing until we end up doing far more harm than good. I’ve used a simple mantra over the past few years which has helped me immensely: “good enough can be good enough.” It’s a gentle reminder that usually the most critical eye in the room is my own. This week is one when many people will be in my living space. The perfectionist is yammering loud and proud in my head. Criticizing this, critiquing that, generally expressing discontent for the decidedly non-magazine spread style in which I live.

She’s dreadful.

The difficulty in living with perfectionism is that she can never be satisfied. She oozes discontent everywhere she goes, and her appetite is insatiable. She gnaws and bellows and judges. You can see why it’s exhausting to live with her in my head. Over time I have learned to quiet her, but there are some weeks when her strident insistence is ever present.

Lately I practice meditation which is teaching me to observe things about myself without judging them. This is especially helpful in quieting hyper-critical self talk that stems from perfectionism. When she’s reminding me of all the things I’m doing wrong, doing imperfectly, or not doing at all, I am able to say, “Well hello perfectionism. I see you there.” While I don’t reject or resist her, I am not obligated to react to her. I don’t have to force my critical inner voice into silence and submission. Instead, I can simply let them be what they are without agreeing or aligning with their message.

This awareness takes practice, and I am often caught in the spiral of self-critical thought before I catch myself. When I  do, I take a few deep breaths and emotionally disengage. But I do catch myself, before the anxiety settles in, before I plant another layer of deprecating critique on the soil of my soul. I stop where I am, mid-thought and gently acknowledge, “Perfection, I see you there but I don’t have to play your game today.” Resistance merely feeds judgmental thoughts of worthlessness and imperfection, but acceptance frees me from having to play destructive mind games.

It’s possible I will never be free of perfectionism. She’s been with me for most of my life. Un-writing her part of my story would be a long and fruitless endeavor, possibly even unraveling parts of my personality that I am unwilling to give up. Sometimes my focus on detail and fine points serves me well. Sometimes the flip side of criticism is discernment. Often a trait, even one as harsh as perfectionism, isn’t entirely bad if only you can accept it’s darker side along with its better one, and choose wisely who you allow the louder voice.

This non-judgmental acceptance of the flawed and broken parts of my personality is still in its infancy. I nurture it, feed it, and practice it every day. I’m not adept at it or as comfortable with it as I hope to one day be. But every time I stop to breathe, every time I welcome perfectionism to the table without allowing her to dominate the conversation, I experience grace. I am grateful for all the pieces that make up this complex creature I call me. It’s a form of compassion to self to welcome my vices as warmly as I welcome my virtues. This is self-love, accepting every part of my soul as she is. It’s just another step towards wholeness on a long and winding journey.

Speaking of imperfection, I am imperfectly inviting anyone who is interested to a monthly-ish email. These emails will have content that isn’t on the blog and hopefully will grow to include some cool freebies. I’m working on an imperfect plan and experiencing grace in the growing.

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